SALTILLO • Saltillo water customers could soon have some relief from excessive bills caused by leaks.

Under a new policy being considered by the Board of Aldermen, parts of those high bills could be forgiven. Customers would still have to pay for all the water that passed through the meter, but they would only pay the city’s cost for anything over their average bill.

The proposed adjustment could only be used once in a three-year span.

Under the city’s current policy, customers must to pay for all water that flows through the meter, even if excessive usage was caused by a leak. The only thing the city can do to help a customer with a leak is set up a payment plan so the customer doesn’t have to pay it all at once.

To ensure it would only apply to substantial leaks, the new policy would only be triggered if the water bill was at least twice the customer’s typical usage. Water system manager Dustin Hathcock said the customers previous six months of usage would be averaged. The bill containing the leak would have to be at least 200% of that average.

“I think the 200% rule is a good idea,” said Mayor Rex Smith. “That will make sure it is a significant amount before we make the one-time adjustment.”

The customer would have to prove not only that there was a leak, but that it had been repaired. That proof could be a bill or report from a plumber of contractor. And to make sure the city isn’t put on the hook for a long-term leak, the adjustment will only cover the last 60 days of water usage.

“If you have a leak, it might not show up on the first bill,” Hathcock said. “It takes an average of two months to fully show up on the billing.”

In late 2019, the city switched to surface water and began purchasing pretreated water from the Northeast Mississippi Regional Water Supply District. If an adjustment is granted under the proposed policy, the customer would pay the wholesale costs of the water over the six-month average.

If a family regularly used 7,000 gallons a month, their average bill would be $46.50. If a leak caused them to use 15,000 gallons, their monthly bill would jump to $92.90. If the adjustment was applied and the customer paid the city’s cost for the extra 8,000 gallons, the second bill would only be $53.70.

“This is one of the things that we felt we could do,” Smith said. “It’s fair for the customers, but it will not put the city in a bind.”

And if the customer could show the leaking water did not flow into the sewer system, their total bill could be slashed even further. Water systems are required to bill customers separately for water and sewage usage. Customers are billed for sewer based on the water usage. The rule of thumb is that all the water that flows through the meter flows through the sewer system as well.

If a family used 7,000 gallons of water, their sewer bill would be $49.80. If the usage jumped to 15,000 gallons, the bill would be $101. But the adjustment would put the sewer bill back to the six-month average.

The new policy would not allow billing adjustments for the filling of swimming pools or irrigation systems. Saltillo allows residents to purchase a separate meter for water that is used outside of the sewer system, such as filling pools or watering lawns. These “yard meters” cannot be connected to any dwelling or storage building.

The board is expected to vote on the proposed policy at its next meeting, July 6.

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